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2. Shiva Nataraj
India
11th c.; Pratihara period
sandstone
Height: 63 cm
Shiva Nataraj

Beautiful stele of Shiva Nataraja in the chatura-tandava pose. It is the 107th step in the 108 step dance of Shiva Nataraj, just before he launches into destruction. Shiva as Nataraja is the cosmic dancer and is the master and source of all the dance forms and performs the tandava, the dance in which the universe is created, maintained, and dissolved. The chatura tandava pose is that where the right leg is firmly placed on the apasmarapurusha (ignorance) and the left leg is raised half way into the air shortly before being stretched out as the nataraja tandava pose.

Shiva's hair is dressed high in jatamukuta and his long, matted tresses, usually piled up in a knot, loosen during the dance and crash into the heavenly bodies, knocking them off course or destroying them utterly. A thin sash runs around the waist. The costume consists of short drawers worn with an elaborate girdle decorated with a floral clasp in front. He wears a tiara with fillet, several ear-rings and a chain of flowers on each shoulder, yajnopavita, necklace, udarabandha, spiral armlets, bracelets, rings and anklets. The stoic face of Shiva represents his neutrality, thus being in balance and is surrounded by flames which represent the manifest Universe.

Shiva’s upper right hand holds a small drum shaped like an hourglass (ḍamaru). A specific hand gesture (mudra) called ḍamaru-hasta is used to hold the drum. It symbolizes sound originating creation or the beat of the drum is the passage of time. His lower left hand holds a sword which signifies that he is the destroyer of births and deaths and his mid left hand holds a aksamala (rosary) made of rudraksha beads which symbolizes concentration. Rudraksha malas have been used by Hindus and Buddhists as rosaries at least from the 10th century for meditation purposes and to sanctify the mind, body and soul.

Shiva’s mid left hand is in abhaya mudra (fearlessness gesture) with a serpent coiled around the forearm, the abhaya mudra is meant to bestow protection from both evil and ignorance to those who follow the righteousness of dharma. His other mid left hand holds a kapala danda (skull-club) that derives from the khatvanga (long skull-capped staff originally created to be used as a weapon).

Most of the Shiva temples in south India have a separate shrine for Nataraja inside their temple premises. A separate hall called Nata mandapam is present next to the Nataraja shrine for the dance presentations.

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